A Houston-based pipe manufacturer with a history of federal safety violations faces more than $1 million in federal fines in a new case alleging amputation risks and other dangers to employees.
Photos: Piping Technology & Products
|Company employees send holiday greetings in a “Happy New Year” photo.|
Acting on a tip by an employee, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an inspection that resulted in 13 willful and 17 serious violations being issued Dec. 28 against Piping Technology and Products Inc. (PTP), with penalties totaling $1,013,000.
Severe Violator Status
The inspection substantiated the whistleblower’s claims, OSHA said, and turned up multiple violations similar to those issued on six previous occasions dating to 1986. OSHA said that employees were permitted to cut metal I-beams and pipes without proper machine guarding and that improper safeguards during machine maintenance exposed workers to the unexpected release of stored energy.
The case puts PTP in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections.
“Piping Technology deliberately exposed its workers who operate band saws and other dangerous machinery to amputation hazards while misleading OSHA investigators about the use of these machines,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.
Piping Technology was founded as a small engineering firm in 1975 and is now a leading supplier to the global oil and gas market. The company and its four subsidiaries offer a wide range of engineered products and services for various industries and applications.
Company Vice President R. K. Agrawal disputed OSHA’s findings.
“Piping Technology & Products maintains a safe workplace for its employees,” Agrawal said in a written statement. ”We started out in a garage in Southeast Houston, and we’ve grown the company to nearly 600 employees over the last 30+ years. All the while, we’ve maintained employee safety as our #1 priority. And we think the data supports it.
“Regarding the citations and proposed fines just issued by OSHA, we disagree with the conclusions that OSHA has reached. We look forward to working with OSHA to resolve the situation.
“Throughout OSHA’s recent inspection of our facility, the men and women of Piping Technology, including members of our safety team, our department supervisors, our management and our other employees have fully cooperated with OSHA inspectors.”
The 44-page list of citations includes the original complaint regarding lack of brakes on overhead cranes and unguarded presses.
The list also includes 13 willful violations—an unusually high number for OSHA’s highest level of infraction, reserved for violations “committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.”
|The citations relate to working conditions at the company’s 35-acre manufacturing and engineering facility near the Port of Houston. The 450,000+-square-foot covered shop space also serves subsidiaries Pipe Shields Inc., Fronek Anchor/Darling, Pipe Shields and Sweco Fab.|
The willful violations involve the failure to guard seven band saws and to lock out all of the sources of hazardous energy to six pieces of equipment before service and maintenance. Each of the 13 citations carries a penalty of $70,000, for a total of $910,000.
The 17 serious violations, which reflect life-threatening hazards, carry a total proposed fine of $103,000. They include:
• Lack of inspection of cranes, including three found to be operating with defective brakes;
• Kinks in a wire hoist rope supporting an overhead crane;
• Use of unlabeled, uninspected steel chain slings;
• Untrained employees working around hazardous energy sources;
• Inadequate inspections involving energy control;
• Lack of fall protection training;
• Failure to anchor equipment designed for a fixed location;
• Lack of hardhats for employees exposed to overhead hazards; and
• Multiple failures to guard machines and grinders properly.
In addition to the threat of death or serious injury, serious violations are those that employers know about, or should have known.
OSHA cited Piping Technology in 1986, 1994, 2004 and 2005 regarding the need to guard the band saws used in production processes. In 2004 and 2005, OSHA fined the company $82,500 and $33,000, respectively, for a variety of workplace hazards that included lockout/tagout violations.
“Repeatedly ignoring the law while risking workers’ lives and providing misleading information to federal investigators will not be tolerated,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Employers who endanger the lives and limbs of their employees must be held accountable.”
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference or contest the case before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.